Please note: due to changes in regulations and constant design developments, we sometimes need to change details such as binding and inlay materials.
My favourite place, the wood store. You might have seen bits of this on the Fretboard Journal video, but there is a lot more this time. Once again it wasn’t planned or scripted but I think I’m getting better at videos. I even smile in places. I am amongst wood of course, and I’m happy!
Sam’s camera seems to have a fault, I’m sure I’m not that fat. Hang on a minute, Moira’s saying something.
Moira bought me a piece of mahogany last week. What actually happened was that I bought it, but used Moira’s ebay account “by accident”. Hang on again, Moira’s saying something else ... !
None of these videos have used a "script", which is a bit obvious at times, but they are fun to do. In this one I realised that I have missed various things out, and we should have planned the shots a bit more in advance. Let's call it a learning curve. There is so much I could say about different approaches and the advantages or disadvantages of certain methods; I will try to say more in future Bucknall Blockbusters. I'll do better next time, perhaps I'll see if Benedict Cumberbatch is available. Then perhaps he could play me in the story of my life.
Sanding is a massive part of guitar making, particularly when you work by hand. It isn't just "smoothing" wood, a lot of the shaping processes are done with sand paper, not cutting tools. Lacquering and polishing involve masses of sanding, by far the biggest part of guitar making in terms of hours, but also huge in terms of physical effort and skill. Any number of tiny mistakes can ruin weeks of work. This video shows only a tiny part of all that effort.
Many makers farm this job out to other companies, which I hate to see: if you don't do your own finishing, then you aren't really making the guitar at all.
If this part of the guitar isn't right, all the rest is wasted. A lot of the precision required comes from previous stages, but from there onwards, a myriad of hand skills will make or break the guitar. There are shortcuts:- filing off the fret ends at very low angle avoids nearly all the work of finishing them properly and results in "narrow" string spacing, and it's easy to shape the fret ends nearer to the vertical, with a spherical end shape, and that does get extra fret length, but leaves them square and uncomfortable. Finding that perfect fit at the interface between guitar and player isn't easy but makes all the difference to a professional guitarist.
There is so much more I could say about all this, and I'm not sure if I've managed to get the message across in this video. I do tap and listen to the wood while I'm working on it, but I do not wish to “tune” the soundboard. I see this from my engineering point of view, aiming for smooth even stress distribution, and strength in the right places. Every guitar that we make feeds some information into the next guitar that we make. It's a cumulative process, small incremental improvements over a long period of time which, when added together, make a significant improvement. In industry and sport, it's called “the theory of marginal gains”. In my case, it's over fifty years and nearly 10,000 instruments, with the results judged by the music and the players, not just my ears.
It was sort of a dream, a way of getting extra, high quality, production and reduce the personal stress. Also of course, I do love clever machines, but I like to design and make them myself. Why would I want one big super clever machine that did everything and left me twiddling my thumbs, when I could spend the rest of my life making lots of little devices and keeping a big cheeky grin on my face? .
And here is one such device, it's the latest of probably ten different fret slotters that I've made over the years, and by far the most sophisticated. A factory would use a CNC machine to do exactly this job, and every maker has their own solution. It's an interesting situation for me, as there’s a constant argument about what constitutes “handmade". In reality, every maker does use machines, probably a minimum of circular saw, bandsaw and drill plus almost certainly a router and several sanders. Professional quality work isn't feasible without them. Hand work carries on the process from there, and we spend something like 90% or more of our time "at the bench".
I've been making little bits and pieces, and bigger bits and pieces, ever since I started making guitars sixty years ago, and I don't throw them away, so I have a lot. Everyone improves our efficiency and quality. I design them myself, and I make them myself. By hand.
The factory inspector won't like a lot of this. Oh well, who's going to see it? I'm sure you won't tell him.
I made the drawknife from an old planer blade more than twenty years ago. It's a beautiful, sensual tool to work with and as long as the wood grain is reasonably "friendly" I can get very close to the finished shape with the drawknife alone, just allowing a fraction for the final sanding. The neck shape is very important, critical even, and I think the video makes it look a lot easier than it is, but I've shaped about eight thousand necks this way over a period of fifty years, and it's one of my favourite jobs.
A machine does not gain any experience or learn any new skills, not even the very expensive Fadal VMC which you can see in the background, which I've had for twenty years, but apart from a few truss rod covers has never been used. I can't get it out now without taking the roof off.
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